The move by the famed Venezuelan conductor from Los Angeles to New York marks a major shake-up in the world of classical music.
The New York Philharmonic has said that renowned Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel will become the orchestra’s music and artistic director beginning in 2026, dealing a blow to the music world of Los Angeles.
The 42-year-old Venezuelan conductor agreed to a five-year contract as New York’s artistic and music director, the orchestra announced Tuesday. Dudamel will become the first Latino to head the orchestra since its founding in 1842.
Known for his kinetic energy and bouncing curly hair, Dudamel has led the Los Angeles Philharmonic since 2009. He was hired by Deborah Borda, who is now the president of the New York Philharmonic.
With Dudamel at the helm, The New York Times had called the LA Phil “the most important orchestra in America – period”.
“I am grateful to the musicians and leadership of the New York Philharmonic as we embark upon this new and beautiful journey together,” Dudamel said on Tuesday. “As the great poet Federico García Lorca said: ‘Every step we take on earth brings us to a new world.’”
Dudamel had made his New York Philharmonic debut in November 2007 at age 26. He has conducted the orchestra 26 times and is scheduled to lead three performances of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony from May 19 to 21.
Coming to Los Angeles at 27, Dudamel worked to bring new audiences to classical music at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl, promote music from the Americas, and engage with contemporary composers and musicians.
And as the most famous product of Venezuela’s acclaimed network of music schools known as El Sistema, he also started a youth orchestra known as YOLA in 2007, providing 1,500 young people with free instruments and instruction.
LA Phil’s chief executive officer, Chad Smith, congratulated Dudamel and said he “has left indelible marks on classical music, the LA Phil and Los Angeles”.
Smith said Dudamel programmed some of the most ambitious works ever staged, inspired the orchestra to reach new levels of artistry, expanded the limits of Walt Disney Concert Hall, and demonstrated the power of music to change people’s lives through YOLA.
Dudamel is among the few conductors who in recent years have gained mainstream attention. A character in the Amazon series Mozart in the Jungle appeared to be based on Dudamel, who conducted the soundtrack to Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story.
“This infectious joy and deep musicality and humanism connects with audiences,” Borda said of Dudamel.
At the NY Phil, he will succeed Dutch conductor Jaap van Zweden.
Van Zweden had said in September 2021 that he would leave the New York Philharmonic after the 2023-24 season, ending a six-season tenure as music director that will be the shortest since Pierre Boulez succeeded Bernstein and led the orchestra from 1971 to 1977.
Borda told the New York orchestra and Dudamel informed the LA musicians of his decision in simultaneous announcements during respective rehearsals at Lincoln Center’s David Geffen Hall and Walt Disney Concert Hall. The New York Philharmonic moved back into Geffen Hall in October following a $550m renovation that improved acoustics, sightlines and amenities.
The New York orchestra plans a February 20 news conference to introduce its new conductor.